The Magazine

History as Bigotry

Daniel Goldhagen slanders the Catholic Church.

Feb 10, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 21 • By DAVID G. DALIN
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So, for instance, the establishment of the Jewish ghetto in Rome, one of the tragic milestones in the history of Catholic-Jewish relations, took place in 1556, not in 1555; the Venice ghetto in 1517, not 1516; the Frankfurt ghetto in 1462, not 1460; the Vienna ghetto in 1626, not 1570. It's not that these are particularly important errors, but that they are simple errors--easy to look up, easy to check. You can't trust anything Goldhagen reports. He is off by three decades about the beginning of the process for Pius XII's beatification and misidentifies the role of Peter Gumpel (who is not the "advocate" but the independent judge of Pius's cause). He claims that Pius XII neither reproached nor punished Franciscan friar Miroslav Filopovic-Majstorovic, when, actually, the so-called "Brother Satan" was tried, defrocked, and expelled from the Franciscan order before the war ended (and was killed by the Communists shortly after).

Then there's the caption that identifies a photo as "Cardinal Michael Faulhaber marches between rows of SA men at a Nazi rally in Munich"--except that the man in the picture isn't Faulhaber but the papal nuncio Cesare Orsenigo, the city isn't Munich but Berlin, and the parade isn't a Nazi rally but a May Day parade. Oh, and the fact that the irascible Faulhaber was a famous opponent of the Nazis. In October, a German court prevented publication of "A Moral Reckoning" until the slander against Faulhaber was corrected.

ON AND ON the factual errors go, the sloppy handling of dates, persons, and places all culminating in the selective use (or ignoring) of evidence to portray Eugenio Pacelli (later Pius XII) as the fount of the era's anti-Semitism. Relying entirely on "Hitler's Pope," Goldhagen takes what was already an outrageous misreading of a 1919 letter (sent by Pacelli to Rome while serving as papal nuncio in Bavaria) describing a group of Bolshevik revolutionaries who had led an uprising in Munich--which Goldhagen extends to: "The Communist revolutionaries, Pacelli averred in this letter, were 'all' Jews."

The Holy See's 1933 concordat with Germany has long been a key instrument for critics of Pius XII, and indeed there are grounds on which to criticize it. But Goldhagen can't accept mere criticism: "Nazi Germany's first great diplomatic triumph," he has to label it, forgetting that the Four Powers Pact between Germany, France, Italy, and England preceded it, as did League of Nations recognition. Pacelli's concordat "helped to legitimate the Nazi regime in the eyes of the world and consolidate its power at home," Goldhagen insists.

But soon after the concordat was signed, Pacelli wrote two articles in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, unequivocally arguing that the Church had negotiated a treaty and nothing more--a treaty that implied no moral endorsement of Hitler or Nazism. While it's true that Hitler initially thought he would be able to use the concordat to harness the Church, he soon came to regret it--as his frenzied diatribes in his "Table Talk" reveal--precisely because it was being cited by Catholics as a legal basis on which to resist Nazism.

Goldhagen's efforts to portray Pacelli as a man whose whole life was fueled by anti-Semitism are made possible only by his ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Guido Mendes, a prominent Italian physician and Pacelli's lifelong Jewish friend, is never mentioned by Goldhagen. Nor is the fact that when Mendes lost his medical professorship as a result of Fascist anti-Semitism, Pacelli personally intervened on his behalf. With Pacelli's direct assistance, Mendes and his family were able to escape and eventually settle in Israel. Pacelli was instrumental in drafting the Vatican's historic 1916 condemnation of anti-Semitism. Bruno Walter, the brilliant Jewish conductor of the Munich Opera whom Pacelli befriended shortly after arriving in Munich in 1917, recounts that Pacelli helped free Walter's Jewish fellow musician, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, who had been imprisoned during a pogrom. These facts are also never mentioned in Goldhagen's one-sided polemic.

Goldhagen's centerpiece is the outrageous allegation that Pius XII "did not lift a finger to forfend the deportations of the Jews of Rome" or of other parts of Italy "by instructing his priests and nuns to give the hunted Jewish men, women and children sanctuary." Much of this is lifted straight from anti-Pius books like Susan Zuccotti's "Under His Very Windows"--and thus Goldhagen repeats the errors of those books and adds extras, all his own, in his determined attempt to extend their thesis into over-the-top railings against the sheer existence of Catholicism.